Ask Stacy: My Hot Takes On Some of the Questions I Have Received
The following questions have been asked by my readers and podcast listeners. I love hearing what’s on your mind and hope you enjoy my “hot takes” and insights based on nearly four decades as a family attorney, two-time divorcee, and the proud mother of two terrific, grown, and well-adjusted children. So read and enjoy, and please Ask Stacy (me) what’s on your mind!
QUESTION: How can I better handle my not-so-easy-to-deal-with in-laws?
My Thoughts: Pray! ;-) But seriously, if it’s important to your spouse that you have a relationship with your in-laws, and you don’t immediately and unconditionally love them, you have to really work at it. That might require repeatedly biting your tongue. I recommend doing what you know will make them happy, even if they criticize you right and left, and just keep your composure.
If your spouse is not concerned that you have a strong relationship with his or her parents, then the pressure is off and you can do as you choose. But you should consider the importance of setting a good example and being a role model for your children, with whom you want to have a healthy relationship or at least a healthy appreciation for whatever those grandparents have to give. The bottom line is: It’s not worth fighting over your in-laws. Cherish the relationships as best you can because they won’t be around forever.
If they happen to live next door, which you certainly knew going into the relationship, then you’re just going to have to learn to live with it. My mother-in-law lived with us and helped raise our kids and I’m incredibly grateful for that. So, sometimes it can be wonderful, but when it’s not, you just have to make it work in some fashion. This might require drawing some lines and boundaries and asking your spouse to help enforce those boundaries. No matter what, you should try to be open and welcoming. If you don’t want them walking into your house daily, try monthly dinners together so they have regular and predictable access to their grandkids. Work with your spouse to set up those boundaries.
If your in-laws are absolute monsters, hopefully, your spouse agrees with your assessment and you can cut them off before real damage is done. I remember my dad saying to my grandmother, “Mom, don’t push me because I’ll choose my wife.” You should expect to have a spouse who is willing to stand up for you. You don’t want to ask your spouse to choose between the two of you, especially if you’re not sure your spouse would choose you because of an inheritance or something else.
QUESTION: What can I do about my spouse who’s a hoarder?
My Thoughts: Unless you’re dealing with a spouse who is willing to hear they have a problem and are open to getting help, what are you going to do? Are you going to scream and yell? This problem is part of their character and deeply rooted in their psychological makeup. Your throwing away 10-year-old newspapers and magazines is not going to solve their problem. Instead, you are likely just going to end up fighting about it. So, maybe you can get some help from your own therapist on how to approach the issue. In the end, your spouse has to be willing to own his/her behavior and want to seek help. Being a hoarder or collector – unless it’s about baseball cards or fine China – is a disease.
I have encountered such folks with these problems in my work. I had a client who was a hoarder and I didn’t know it (I had never been to her house) until she was going through a custody evaluation. It became a focal point of the evaluation. The thought of living in a hoarder’s home makes most people’s skin crawl, but she was a lovely person who just needed help.
QUESTION: I suspect my spouse is cheating on me, now what?
My Thoughts: Well, legally in California it doesn’t matter if somebody is having an affair unless they’re using joint money to pay for something – and I don’t mean paying for a dinner or even small gifts. What I’m talking about is significant amounts of money that would be worth spending attorney’s fees to chase.
But on an emotional level, most people would want to know whether or not their spouse was being faithful. If nothing else, you need to know if you should get yourself medically tested for HIV and STDs, etc. Back in the old days, you could hire a private investigator. Nowadays, finding out could be as easy as checking your spouse’s computer or phone. HOWEVER, DOING SO COULD BE AGAINST THE LAW. So please check with a lawyer in this space before you do something that could be illegal. If your computer is a family/jointly-used computer, and there are no specific passwords for each person, then it may be okay to access the emails. But, if it’s your spouse's phone or their work computer, stay away and be very careful. You could be violating a federal statute. Most people don’t know this.
Generally, if your Spidey senses start to tingle alerting you that something is amiss, begin by looking at your credit card statements and phone bills; and if you feel the need, hire someone to conduct surveillance. But don’t put a GPS tracker on your spouse’s car. Also, remember that today’s smartphones have “find my friends,” “find my phone,” and “find my keys” apps and features now. You can activate those features on your own phone, but if you activate these features on your spouse’s phone, be sure to get their consent first.
I have a client who had her spouse on “find my friends,” and she followed it one day to find him at the W Hotel. She didn’t expect to find an affair, but she did. The Valet said, oh you’re married to so-and-so, he’s here all the time. And she thought to herself, “Oh, my God. It’s like out of a movie.”
After you’ve found out a loved one is cheating, first get yourself medically tested for HIV and STDs to keep yourself safe. But then you need to ask yourself, what’s your goal? Are you willing to end your marriage because of it? Or do you want to work through it? Do you want to confront your spouse about it? If so, do it in a public space or better yet a therapist or counselor’s office to try to control any aggressive reaction. But remember, if you do this in your favorite restaurant, you may never want to dine there again.
Talk with your personal therapist for a second opinion or gut-check about your feelings. You may have one agenda and your spouse may have another. You may want to work through this, and your spouse may look at it as a ticket to freedom. But you must deal with it, or it will fester and erode the relationship.
You can collect evidence for a divorce, but to what end? Remember, in California, and in most states in the Country, an affair is irrelevant in a divorce proceeding, unless the spouse is spending significant amounts of shared money (for the likes of a condo or a car) on his or her paramour.
Question: Children didn’t solve our marriage issues, now we have children and more issues.
My Thoughts: Yes, indeed! Some people think that having kids will save a failing marriage. And my advice is DON’T do it thinking things will suddenly improve. It will just make things worse, and now you have kids stuck in the middle. If you were fighting before, I am pretty certain you will still be fighting after, and now have a child to take care of on top of it. And then you’re going to raise kids with problems because they are in an environment where the parents are bad role models. Or you’re going to be divorced and have to share custody of a child.
Having children is one of the true gifts and miracles of life – it is not to be underestimated, undervalued, or taken for granted. But children are a ton of work and added expenses. Raising healthy and happy children can be challenging, even in the most normal, loving households. My advice for having children is similar to my advice on getting married. Do not enter into these arrangements lightly. Both marriage and children have boundless potential benefits, but both are life-changing, demanding jobs – they are your lifelong responsibilities, even if you separate or divorce.
Question: When are you going to talk about sex? We want “The Sex Issue!”
My Thoughts: This one had me rolling on the floor laughing. It’s not every day an attorney is asked to talk about sex.
But seriously, here is my empirical study on sex: Women in their 50s are much more interested in sex than men in their 50s, at least with their spouses. Things tend to calm down with men, and women – in my experience – seem to grow more interested in sex. It might make women feel better knowing that men just lose interest in general, therefore it’s not that she is less attractive. Honestly, I’ve tried to save some marriages by sharing this observation.
It is often more likely than not that couples who are splitting up have not had sex for years. Once in a while, I’ll find clients who are still having sex, even after they’re separated, which is completely confusing and bizarre. In one case, the husband left and came back to have sex, and the wife thought he was coming back for good, but he wasn’t.
Of course, there is breakup sex, there’s make-up sex, and then there’s after-the-separation sex.
If people are not having sex, it could be for a whole lot of reasons; and of course, the whole relationship doesn’t have to die because of it. But, if sex is important to one partner, one must be willing to talk about it and deal with it. Sex is often the reason couples start going to therapy together. Because generally, the wife feels that the husband isn’t interested or not attracted to her, which may not be the case. When the kids are babies, it’s often the reverse that the dad wants sex and the mom isn’t interested around that time. Additionally, there is also the Madonna-Whore complex, which is a whole other sad problem.
Sex isn’t supposed to come up in the California courtroom because we are a no-fault state. So, having sex with someone else is irrelevant unless it’s done (God forbid) in front of a child, while the children are upstairs, or if you’re exposing the new friend to the children 30 seconds after having split up, all of which most judges know are bad ideas. And, of course, as mentioned before, if one spouse is spending extensive money on an extra-marital partner, that could be a real issue in the divorce. But those rules vary from state to state.
And lastly, violent sex isn’t typically an issue in a divorce if it’s consensual. But it’s important to understand that sex that is violent can be domestic violence. It took the courts far too long to realize you can rape a spouse and that No, means No! I don’t care who you are.
I hope my musings on topics of interest to my readers and listeners have been of some value to you. Please keep those questions coming! Send me a message here or email me: AskStacy@McGriffinMedia.com.
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This article was published by Stacy D. Phillips on LinkedIn on January 11, 2023.